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Egypt unrest tests Obama's Arab Spring philosophy

President Barack Obama's response to political unrest in the Middle East has been to state support for representative governments, but to limit the US involvement. The ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has challenged Obama's approach.

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President Barack Obama makes a statement to reporters regarding events in Egypt from his rental vacation home in Chilmark, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard August 15. As Arab Spring democracy uprisings spread across the Middle East, Obama's response to the political unrest has been to voice support for people seeking representative governments but limit the role the United States will play to shape those efforts.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File

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As Arab Spring democracy uprisings spread across the Middle East, President Barack Obama's response to the political unrest has been to voice support for people seeking representative governments but limit the role the United States will play to shape those efforts.

The president's philosophy of limited engagement is facing perhaps its toughest test in Egypt, where the nation's first democratically elected president was ousted by military forces with deep, decades-long ties to the US.

The White House has refused to declare Mohammed Morsi's removal from power a coup — a step that would require Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual aid — even after the military-backed interim government led crackdowns last week that left more than 600 people dead and thousands more injured.

Obama's resistance to suspending US support for Egypt's military leaves the White House with little leverage, effectively relegating the president to the role of a bystander issuing strongly worded statements. The US position has also stirred up anti-American sentiment in Egypt, with Morsi supporters accusing the US of failing to live up to its own democratic values by allowing an elected leader to be pushed aside.

Obama insists that the US stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government. But he says America could not determine Egypt's future and would not "take sides with any political party or political figure."

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